Friday 15 August 2014

Terrific new performances of Schumann’s second and third symphonies from Heinz Holliger and the WDR Sinfonieorchester, Köln on Volume II of Audite’s complete symphonic works series

Heinz Holliger continues his survey of the symphonic works of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) for Audite with Symphony No.2 in C major and Symphony No.3 in E flat major again with the WDR Sinfonieorchester , Köln 

I was particularly enthusiastic about Holliger’s first volume in this series (see and this new issue is no less fine.

Holliger uses an orchestra of the size that Schumann would have expected when early performances took place in Leipzig and Dusseldorf. In particular the string sections are smaller than modern orchestras. This certainly has a significant effect on the clarity of sound.

Those who have acquired the first volume in this series will be aware that the numbering of Schumann’s symphonies is very misleading. Symphony No.2 dates from 1845/46 and Symphony No.3 from 1850, effectively making them the last two to be written.

The Sostenuto assai that opens Symphony No.2 in C major, Op.61, one of Schumann’s fine melodies, is nicely paced and mellow, a kind of calm before the Allegro. There are finely turned phrases from Heinz Holliger and the WDR Sinfonieorchester, Köln as well as a lightness of touch as the Allegro ma non troppo arrives, with Holliger gradually building the orchestral weight. There is some nice pointing up of staccato phrases; indeed, it is Holliger’s fine phrasing and orchestral rubato that makes this performance so special. This is music full of vigour. There is a weight to the orchestra but without any density of textures. Holliger seems to have a thoroughly fresh conception of this symphony. The WDR Sinfonieorchester have a terrific tautness of ensemble as well as some really fine instrumental contributions. Holliger certainly whips up a terrific coda.

The WDR’s strings are on fine form in this almost Mendelssohnian Scherzo. Allegro vivace, fleet of foot with Holliger expertly guiding his forces around every twist and turn. There are two beautifully shaped Trio sections that flow so well.

In the Adagio espressivo, Holliger gives an emphasis to the orchestral rubato thus pointing up the expressivo marking. He brings out many details of the orchestration, often glossed over. The slowly rising theme is allowed a lovely natural flow yet the transparent textures make it sound fresh and new. When the rhythmic theme is overlaid by the flowing, rising theme it is beautifully done. When the rising theme appears a second time it receives added passion, a beautiful touch.

The orchestra brings a fine weight to the Allegro molto vivace, again with fine clarity of texture revealing Schumann’s attractive orchestration as the theme is shared around the orchestra. There is an appealing slow section part way through, beautifully shaped, with some very fine orchestral playing before the affirmative coda.

The Lebhaft of Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Op.97 ‘Rhenish’ leaps of the page full of confidence. Such is the clarity of performance and recording, I don’t think I’ve ever heard some of the orchestral detail so clearly before. Indeed, this is occasionally disconcerting as one now clearly hears the line of the music crossing over. Holliger keeps up the drama with carefully controlled dynamic contrasts which, together with the taut orchestral playing, lifts this movement. There is a fine horn contribution as indeed, there is from all the brass in this movement. Holliger and his players bring such vibrancy to this music.

The Scherzo. Sehr mäßig has a lovely forward pulse with contrasting, almost balletic, interludes such is the lightness of touch, with a real sense of freedom towards the coda. These players bring much character to the third movement, Nicht schnell, with lovely shaping and attention to dynamics. Again so many fine details emerge.

Gravity arrives in Feierlich with some lovely harmonies from the WDR Orchestra, particularly the woodwind and trombones. The way Holliger builds these sonorities, pointed up by the timpani is very fine, subtly bringing out the drama. The brass chorales are beautifully done, set against a lovely, quiet orchestral contrast. Holliger shapes the orchestral sonorities so well. This is terrific playing. A light-hearted Lebhaft moves off at a fine pace. Again it is remarkable how Holliger and his players carefully build the structure leading to the joyful coda.

These terrific new performances are full of so many fine things and should provide an ideal choice of recording for these works. The recordings made in the Philharmonie, Köln are absolutely first class and add so much to the clarity of detail.

With excellent booklet notes this new release must receive the strongest recommendation.

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